The government must “urgently” consider how to extend the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s remit to incorporate both direct and indirect suppliers to UK retailers, MPs have warned.

The  Commons Efra Committee today (2 March), published a 45-page report from its inquiry into farmgate prices, renewing its recommendation for the powers of GCA Christine Tacon to be widened.

While acknowledging Tacon’s “positive impact” on the relationship between retailers and suppliers and praising her investigation into Tesco’s relationship with its suppliers, the Committee branded the current remit of her role “too restrictive” and said the government needed to find a way to protect all suppliers to major retailers, whether direct or not.

It called on Defra to include the issue in its recommendations to the review of the role of the GCA, due later this year.

Responding to the report, Tacon reiterated her stance that any extension of the role was a “matter for parliament”.

However, she stressed the GCA’s responsibilities were “already extensive”, and pointed out that even if the remit were to be extended it would not cover pricing. “This is the area where there have been most calls from indirect suppliers for me to intervene but the Code I monitor and enforce does not regulate prices,” she said.

Tacon added she had concerns - which Efra had recognised – about the “misunderstanding” of her role. While the paper suggested she meet indirect suppliers directly to explain her role, she suggested there was “a major role for the relevant trade associations to explain the Groceries Supply Code of Practice to their members”.

Among a raft of recommendations which also included calls for Defra to speed up CAP subsidy payments, take forward work on futures markets, and encourage farmers, processors and retailers to agree to more long-term contracts, the report suggested current legislation surrounding country of origin labelling had “the potential to mislead consumers and cause confusion”.

MPs found that a growing interest in the provenance of food and in British products required a move towards clearer labelling. “Defra’s current guidance on origin labelling allows for companies to sell products such as cheese and butter as British when the raw product is being sourced oversees,” added Committee chair Neil Parish.

“As a result consumers are given a false impression that they are supporting a home industry when in fact their money is not supporting UK farmers at all. Defra must strengthen its guidelines around country of origin labelling and continue to press for EU support in establishing clearer and better labelling requirements.”